As the pandemic winds down, people are champing at the bit to get in the sky again. And nowhere in the region is this perhaps more evident than at Sea-Tac International Airport.
At a recent visit to Sea-Tac, KIRO Newsradio observed crowds of people in baggage claim, and numbers of travelers are projected to only increase steadily as winter ends and spring break approaches.
Perry Cooper, senior manager of media relations for aviation with the Port of Seattle, said the port is expecting this summer to be the busiest since the pandemic started.
“Our projection is, we’ll be a little bit less than 5% for the year under what we were in 2019, pre-pandemic,” he said. “And then in 2023, getting almost back to normal.”
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Travelers who spoke with KIRO Newsradio said that they felt safe flying again due to the falling COVID cases and the strict precautions being observed in airports and on aircraft. The TSA just extended the air travel mask mandate through at least April 18.
“It’s pretty safe because the protocol has been maintained really strictly,” said Kuntla Sarkar, who was making her first international flight since the pandemic began, from India to Seattle. “Everyone is wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, so it’s really nice.”
“It helps that the airports have been very clean,” added Kevin Kreis, who was flying back to Seattle from Georgia.
And with increased ease around travel, they spoke of wanting to fly more this summer.
“We’re trying to plan [a vacation] with our kids — California, probably,” said Ellen Navarro, who was flying back to Sea-Tac from Dallas. “We have a lot of family out there, so we’ll probably just go see family.”
Cooper said that planning more travel to make up for lost time is a common theme this year.
“We’re hearing people talk about having the big GOAT [greatest of all time] vacation, which is that grand vacation that they’ve been dreaming about and haven’t had to do for the last two years,” he said.
In response, Sea-Tac has also brought back its international flights, and will be up to 42 international routes by this summer.
“That actually equals the amount that we had pre-pandemic,” Cooper said.
While not all of the pre-pandemic carriers have returned, Sea-Tac has added some new international routes, such as Qatar last year, and Montreal and Helsinki this year.
Also being unveiled is Sea-Tac’s new, larger International Arrivals facility — which Cooper said speaks to Seattle’s role on the world stage.
“Seattle is being seen more as a big player to all these airlines because of how fast we’re growing and how the businesses are growing — we’ve actually jumped ahead of other larger cities in the U.S. for some of these services,” Cooper said.
Much of that is due to the tech boom, which has brought workers from all around the world.
Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, who grew up in Seattle, noted that when he was a kid, a person almost always had to fly through another city to go international. Now, however, Seattle is that gateway to the world.
“Seattle has become a global hub, not just a regional hub, and as a result of that, there’s a demand for international travelers to come,” he said, adding, “Because we are becoming a diverse global community of first-generation immigrants who are coming to work in all the industries that are booming here in our region, it also means that there is demand to come and visit from relatives overseas.”